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  • John Qualls

Are you Suffering, or Just Struggling?

I've had a lot of discussions with leadership lately about their organizational staff challenges. The topic that comes up a lot is they (and their team) are really suffering. That prompted me to take a moment and look up what is the definition of suffering?

Suffering (noon):the state of experience of one that suffers; pain.


What really struck me was the word “one”. When we think of the times of great personal suffering, it was usually a time when we felt alone.

A personal pain, hidden from view.   

No one wants to suffer or lead a team of people suffering. When we think of some of the differences between great cultures and toxic cultures, it’s this private suffering that can’t be seen, but felt, that feeds toxic cultures. A lot makes up a toxic culture, but suffering is a great indicator. So, if suffering feeds a toxic culture, what feeds a great culture? That leads us to look up the definition of struggling:


Struggle (noun): a violent effort or exertion: an act of strongly motivated striving


Hmmm, ‘strongly motivated striving’ seems about right. When we consider some of our most rewarding efforts at work, they tend to involve struggling TOGETHER with a shared effort. What are some of your most fond moments at work? Those stories will be full of great efforts you conquered together


We hear a lot of talk about being happy at work. That doesn’t add up in the long run. Personally, I’ve always felt that is the cart before the horse mentality. It is when we are given meaningful work, engaged with others against a common goal or effort, that the true reward is found (at work and in life!)

It’s the journey of working through the struggles where happiness is forged. That makes sense at work, in friendships, in marriages, and in the human experience.

My wife and I counsel those getting married, or struggling in their marriage to ask two simple questions; Do you want a happy marriage, or be a great spouse? Pick one.

After 30 plus years of marriage, there are times when you will not be happy or lonely. But you can always work to be a great spouse. We believe serving each other through the struggles is where the real-life journey is. The struggle has made happiness and joy richer when it arrives.

You are going to spend 90,000 hours of work in your lifetime. It won’t always be happy, but struggling through the great effort, with others, can be a great reward.

If you are really suffering, don’t do it in silence. Reach out. If you see someone suffering, listen and let them know they are not alone. In such a connected world, why do we feel so alone?

Now if you are struggling. Struggling with others to do great things? Be thankful.

Thank those you are struggling through the journey with. They could use the words.

I promise the struggle together will always be the better path than suffering alone.




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